By Pete Chiodo
April 19, 2013 7:00 a.m. MEADVILLE —
Steven Heflin jogged off the turf at Meadville High School’s Bender Field with a bit of a confused look on his face.
“I guess I was called for ... something?” the MASH junior thought aloud.
The far side referee had just whistled Heflin for an infraction. And that sent him off to the penalty box, taking him out of Thursday’s lacrosse meeting between Meadville-Crawford County and the Erie Spears club teams for a minute of play.
“As soon as I got a penalty I was like, ‘I wonder what I did,’” said Heflin. “I hit this guy. He’s down on the ground. I got somebody who understands looking at me, going, ‘Not right, No. 23.’
“I’m like, “I ... I’m sorry? I don’t know what I did.’”
Heflin wasn’t the only member of the MCC team to experience this kind of confusion on Thursday.
Partly, that’s because no athlete in any sport understands (honestly or not) why they would be called for a penalty.
Mostly, though, it’s that the MCC players, in fact most everyone in Crawford County, have yet to fully grasp the sport of lacrosse.
“That’s where a lot of us are at right about now,” said junior defenseman Louis Crawford. “Half of us are still in the learning stage. ‘Uh, what did I do?’
“A lot of us are talking to the kids on the other team trying to figure out what we did, because a lot of them have been playing for awhile. So we’re like, ‘What was that call?’”
The MCC program — which currently includes players from Meadville, Cochranton, Conneaut and Cambridge Springs — is only eight games old. It played just twice in last year’s inaugural season. And Thursday’s game against the Erie Spears — which Erie won 6-2 — was the sixth game of MCC’s 15-game schedule of 2013.
Outside of those eight games, and the practices in between, that’s about all the experience any of Meadville-Crawford County’s players have had with the sport.
It’s different with other sports. Most people come into a game like football or baseball or basketball possessing some understanding of the activity; having either played the game in a backyard setting or, at least, having watched it on TV.
Lacrosse, not so much, especially not in this part of the country. And it’s such a unique sport in how it contains elements from so many other forms of athletics — hockey, soccer, rugby, football.
“It’s a little bit of everything, that’s the only way I can describe it,” said Crawford. “It takes a lot of coordination to play it. But it’s fun. You get to hit kids.”
Being such a new endeavor, it’s going to take some time for MCC to get fully up to speed.
Coach John Heflin understands this.
“I played at a high school that started (lacrosse) in 1981,” he said. “The only schools that played in Pittsburgh were the prep schools, which was Sewickly Academy and Shady Side Academy and Kiski. That high school didn’t win a game for five years.”
With that in mind, coach Heflin couldn’t be happier with how far the MCC program has come in such a short time.
“It’s going very well,” he said. “If you watched (on Thursday), they’re executing plays. They’re keeping the ball half of the time in the other end of the field, instead of playing the whole time in the defensive end.”
MCC even has one win in the books already. This past Saturday, it defeated Grand River Academy 6-1 for the program’s first.
And yesterday’s game against Erie, even though it was a loss, was still considered a step in the right direction.
“We’ve definitely improved since the beginning,” said Steven Heflin. “We played (Erie) the first game and we lost 0-10. This time, we were holding them to 2-4 for most of the second half until they scored two at the end.”
The rematch with Erie, said John Heflin, “is a big success. The game came out as well as I could have hoped for. I was hoping for 3-9 or 2-8. A 2-6, I’ll take it any day of the week.”
Coach Heflin currently considers MCC in the JV stage of development — not quite up to most varsity standards. But with enthusiasm for the sport growing, the skills of the players on the rise, and their knowledge of the penalties ... well ... on the way; it may not be too long until lacrosse makes a name for itself in Crawford County.
“We achieved my goal for this year, which was to win a game,” he said. “My other goal was to play good, respectable lacrosse as a team. So far, so good. We could win one, two, maybe three more.”